Dear 18-year-old self!
I hope that your daily struggles don’t take too much of your energy; you know you are sick, so take it easy on yourself. During the last days of school you’ll daydream more than usual. None of the dreams you’ll have will come true. Nonetheless, those tiny moments of joy will keep your spirit alive.
In one of the usual days at school, you’ll hold in your hands the paper to complete your choices for studying in University. You will playfully circle architecture (your forever impossible dream) as your first choice and you’ll bitterly smirk at yourself. You know pretty damn well that a choice like that, not only is out of the question for you, but also is very costly. So you will circle a more realistic choice, Foreign Languages studies because you’re a bookworm and you want to know as many languages as possible to read as many books as possible. Like the smart girl that you are, you’ll also think about the future and calculate that you will probably have more chances to get a job (how mistaken you are). Freedom has always been your craving, and being economically independent is the guaranteed ticket to that freedom.
Although you completed that paper, you knew that pursuing studies was out of the question in those moments. None of your siblings have had the chance to study, although all of them did well in their grades, so why would you? Still, holding that paper, you won’t stop yourself from dreaming.
So the day passes and you’re about to finish high school. In one of the many classes you have, you will sit with your friends and chat. They will talk happily about their new experience in University and how thrilled and excited they are to finally start there. On the other hand, you are going to feel your throat dry and the speechlessness because you can’t go to University; your parents can’t help you financially. So, as you listen to them, mentioning how they are going to go out with each other but forget to mention your name, your heart will break. It is like they already know that you aren’t going to walk the same path as them; it has always been like that. You are going to get up from your chair and sit close to the window of your class. You’re going to drift away and swallow your tears, and when they are going to ask for another player to play cards with until the next class starts, you are not going to join. With a trembling voice you’re going to say no, that you are not in the mood, but in reality you realized that you aren’t part of their reality. Your friendship with them will end in that moment. Be strong!
Dear 18-year-old self! A year has passed, and you are still home; your parents are thinking of finding you some gentleman caller to marry you off to. Terrified you will try to get out of the situation. You are now 19 years old; your anxiety and anemia are making you weaker, so you ask your father if he can help you finish that intensive English course - It is only going to last a month after all. He is going to help you with what he can, and you are going to work hard.
At the same time, since you finally have an excuse to go into the city, you will start searching for a job; you’ll find one, and your father again won’t negate you this opportunity. You will work for almost a month and attend the English course at the same time, but you aren’t going to get paid on your first job ever. Don’t worry; as bitter as you are inside in that moment, you will happily accept it as an experience. But summer is passing, your health is deteriorating, and you’re so skinny that almost every month you visit the doctors at the emergency room. Low blood pressure and anemia they’ll say, but they will not understand what you are suffering from inside.
Secretly, you’ll try to compete for University and after the first attempt you are going to win - way to go, you smart girl. You had worked so hard during those four years of high school and had an average of 8.9 that helped you a lot, and you’ll finally have the points needed to be accepted and attend the University of Tirana for Foreign Languages Studies. You were always confident about it, because your grades were never the problem, finances were. Halfheartedly you will tell your father that you won and that this is the only chance for you to pursue your studies. He, knowing you, and understanding that you will never accept to get married as they chose, will agree to let you go. He is going to borrow the money from who knows where but you will promise him: “Help me for just one year till I get adapted, and I will repay every cent.” You will keep your promise, and he will be proud. Have faith!
Dear 18-year-old self! I am not going to talk about the financial struggles you’re going to encounter in the first year, because frankly my dear, this is the reality for you, and you are going to work your own way out of it. Your 20-year-old self, will have no new shoes, nor a warm jacket for winter; your clothes are going to look very old and you will barely buy the books for your seminars. Let’s not mention how hard it is going to be for you to eat once a day, but however hard it may be, many people along the way are going to help and you will have this powerful drive inside of you. After all, you can’t complain, you made it, right? You knew it was going to be hard and you knew that no matter what your will was stronger than your circumstances. During the whole first year you are going to be confused, tired, afraid, alone, but none of those feelings will really matter to you. You’ll wake up every day, just being thankful of how lucky you are to pursue your dream. You aren’t completely free yet, but you will fight no matter the cost. I still remember you with those old clothes and those old jeans of yours. And I remember your face every time you would get stained with blue ink all over, how you would smile with joy and think that you had achieved everything. Oh, but my dear, stay strong because soon you will have to make the biggest decision of your life.
(Painting by Malcolm T. Liepke.)
(to be continued in couple of days)
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